Paul Holden Young (1890-1960)

Paul Holden Young (1890-1960)
Author - Robert Jon Golder
Copyright 2013 Robert Jon Golder

Long before Paul H. Young became known for building flamed, parabolic taper fly rods, he was nationally recognized as a fly tier who developed or perfected many innovative fly patterns. He issued his first mail order tackle catalog in 1927, offering flies like the split-wing Redhead, the Bivisible dry, and the Strawman nymph for which he would still be remembered years later. Working primarily from his shop located at 8065 Grand River Avenue in Detroit, MI, Young tied and sold #20 midge nymphs decades before most anglers even considered fishing flies that small. Profits from fly tying, and not from fly rods, brought his fledgling company through the Great Depression. His wife and devoted angling companion, Martha Marie Young, also contributed immeasurably to the success of the Paul H. Young Company.

During the 1930s, Young was a dealer in the Midwest for bamboo fly rods made by Payne, Thomas, Edwards, Dickerson, and others. He also offered rods under his own label, but the rods were built for him by makers like Edwards, or assembled by Young using blanks made by others. Young enjoyed assembling rods and became especially skilled at shaping cork grips and making decorative thread wraps.

Young guided his business through the Depression only to see most of his customer base, and his two sons, leave for service in World War II. However, when the war ended, Young was finally able to realize a long-deferred dream: splitting cane and building his own bamboo rods from scratch. In this he was aided by August A. Pernack, an engineer who helped set up a bamboo milling machine and a ferrule-making operation. One of Young’s great strengths was in coordinating and networking with others, like Pernack, to get jobs done when Young himself lacked expertise or enough time.

Young built rods with progressive actions but, influenced by Charles Ritz’s tapers, increasingly began to concentrate on what he initially called “American Parabolic” rods, to distinguish them from Pezon et Michel parabolic rods from France. By 1948 he was experiencing an extraordinary burst of rodbuilding creativity. Young experimented with different tapers and various flaming techniques, producing blonde rods, smoothly-flamed caramel-colored rods, and the dramatic, mottled-flame rods for which he became best known.

Young never made claims of originality in building parabolic rods or flamed rods; the one thing he believed might have been his original idea was to offer the option of two differently-tapered tips to fit one butt section of each parabolic rod. A dry fly tip and a “wet” parabolic tip essentially gave the customer two slightly different fly rods for the price of one.

Young’s best-known late-1940s rod models (or, more precisely, grades of finish) were, in ascending order of cost and quality, the Prosperity, the Ace, and the Special. These designations were marked on the butt of each rod using an ink stamp. The “Special DeLuxe” grade was additionally marked with the owner’s name hand-inked in Young’s unusual printing style. By the 1950s, all of Young’s rods were custom built, and all were marked entirely by hand.

The most famous of Young’s rod models and his personal favorite, the eight-foot “Parabolic 15” trout rod, was in development in the late 1940s and made its catalog debut in 1950. A number of large saltwater models followed, as the Youngs made annual winter bonefishing trips to Florida, sometimes accompanied by Boston Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams. Young also built salmon and steelhead rods; the best known of these was the Bob Doerr model, named after one of Williams’ teammates. Bob Doerr was the Sox’ second baseman and, like Williams, a Hall of Famer. The Youngs visited Doerr at his home in Oregon and fished for steelhead with him.

At the opposite end of the size spectrum for fly rods, Young built the 6’3” Midge model, after experimenting with Midge lengths as short as 5’9”. The 7’2” Driggs was introduced in 1953, followed by the 7’6” Perfectionist.

There is a lot of potential variability between different Young rods with the same model name. For example, the PHY "Martha Marie" model began as a 7'6" rod with 13/64” ferrule and 4/64” tip top, became a heavier rod with 14/64” ferrule and 4-1/2/64” tip top, and then in 1958 a cataloged lightweight version was offered with aluminum ferrules and two different tip tapers, “wet” and dry; the latter one was marked for an HEH silk line.

Serial numbering of Young rods began in 1955, beginning with the serial number 1955, or possibly #1950. After a few years, Paul H. Young deliberately introduced a gap of 750 or more serial numbers in the numbering system, roughly from about #2350 to #3300.

In the early 1950s Paul H. Young and his sons, Paul A. and Jack Young, did all of the critical work in building the rods (Paul A. Young probably deserves a bit more credit than is usually given him; he also readied for publication the mid-1950s catalog). In 1956 Bob Summers was hired as a part-time, after-school helper and rapidly became an important contributor behind the scenes in the continuing production of Young rods. Summers’ substantial contribution was not publicly recognized at the time, but in private letters to his friend Chauncy Lively, Paul H. Young spoke of Bob Summers as his essential helper in building rods in the final years of Young’s life.

Paul H. Young suffered from serious heart disease, and was in and out of the hospital during the last three years of his life. He died just prior to Opening Day of the 1960 Michigan trout season, and his funeral was delayed because many of his angling comrades had traveled north from Detroit to fish, not knowing their friend was dead. Rod #3888, build date March 14, 1960, is reported to be the last rod built during Young’s lifetime. Rod #3889, build date May 21, 1960, is reported to be the first rod built after his death. Some rods built afterward, mostly by Bob Summers, may have been assembled from blanks that Paul H. Young had made. But increasingly Bob Summers had become the primary factor in rod construction, and for more than a decade afterward at the Paul H. Young Co. it was Bob Summers who, for the most part, carried forward the rod building legacy of his mentor, Paul H. Young.

Learn more about the legacy of this remarkable rod maker by visiting the Paul H. Young Database at http://www.phydatabase.com or by clicking here.